Message: Superstition won’t cure Ebola

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The message is simple: You can survive Ebola.

But what if you have never heard of any of the life-saving ways to avoid getting the horrific virus?

Using drama and song, young adults from The United Methodist Church in Sierra Leone are taking the urgent messages about Ebola to drivers and motorcyclists, market vendors, street hawkers, footballers and people who live in some of the country’s poorest areas.

Rolling down the roads in the back of a pickup truck equipped with a loud PA system, the young people attract everyone’s attention – drawing people in with the skits and music.

In one of the skits, a man with traditional headdress claims to have the power to cure Ebola. A young man comes to him with his sick brother. The sick brother dies and so does the herbalist. The first young man becomes sick and goes to a hospital for treatment. He survives.

The message: no superstitious power can cure Ebola; contact with an infected person can lead to infection; and chances for survival are best if one seeks professional medical care immediately.

Infection rates rising

New infection rates of Ebola reached a record high, with more than 6,500 infections in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea, according to the World Health Organization.  More than 3,000 have died. The one-day infection rates show how fast the disease is spreading – on Sept. 29, laboratory tests confirmed 90 people positive of the Ebola virus in Sierra Leone alone.

The skits performed in parks, markets and football fields deal with prevention, what to do when infected and how to treat Ebola-infected people with love while keeping the ABC rule – Avoid Body Contact.

“Not everybody in Sierra Leone can read and write; a drama presents a good way to reach out to that large category of people. Through drama done in Krio, the most common language spoken in Sierra Leone, we are sure to reach out to as many people as possible,” said Finda Quiwa, a United Methodist Board of Global Ministries regional missionary. Her ministry supports the young adults’ Ebola fight with funding from United Methodist Women.

The young people get accurate information through the Sierra Leone Annual Conference and are trained to use that knowledge to reach the public.

“We provide them with enough Ebola education materials and knowledge,” said the Rev. Sylvester Holima, director of youth and young adults.

The messages come through loud and clear—don’t hide; seek medical treatment if you have a fever; wash your hands often;  wear protective clothing if you have contact with a sick person; don’t touch the bodies of people who may have died from Ebola.

Passion and creativity

The young people are free to develop the skits on their own.

“And because it is coming from them, they put their all in it – passion, creativity and time,” Holima, said.

The young adults have composed several Ebola education songs that are being aired on radio as part of the United Methodist response in the Ebola fight.

The group enters communities with the songs blasting. Then they offer prayers as people gather.

 Prayers are precious in the lives of Sierra Leoneans, Holima said. Public prayers were the best way to attract people during the country’s 11-year civil strife and the strategy seems to be working again during the ongoing Ebola outbreak, he added.

Short and simple

One goal is always kept in mind when crafting and delivering the Ebola message.

“We keep it short, basic and simple because our target is the common people who for a large part of their time are busy eking out a living,” Holima said.

“I didn’t imagine the level of success when we conceived the idea. It can be rated as a huge success. People have been calling me on the phone; the news is on the radio and TV,” Quiwa said.

In most of the communities the groups visited in Freetown, people told them this was the first time they had seen the Ebola message dramatized live in their communities, Holima said.

“I am pleased that we were able to reach a lot of people who cannot read or write. I know this because I could see people crowding around us in their numbers in all the places we went. At Lumley, a woman nearly shed tears when she saw the way an Ebola patient in the play was wrapped and whisked away in the ambulance,” Holima said.

“At Tombo Park in eastern Freetown, a huge number of people gathered and we repeatedly told them not to cluster. They spaced out and continued to listen as we prayed with them. A thunderous `AMEN’ repeatedly echoed back at us and we felt so pleased,” Holima said.

With more support and funding, Quiwa hopes to take the new initiative to other parts of the country.

Some help coming in

Meanwhile a Chinese medical team that recently arrived in the country has established a new holding center at the Sierra Leone-China Friendship Hospital in eastern Freetown. That’s in addition to a mobile Ebola laboratory brought in as the Chinese government supports Sierra Leone’s effort to fight the hemorrhagic fever.

This latest Chinese effort will ease the burden of taking all Ebola suspected cases to Kenema, which  used to have the only equipped laboratory to test all viral diseases including Ebola.

The overload at the Kenema facility eventually led to increasing deaths among health workers at the Ebola Epicentre.

Also, 3,000 U.S. troops are headed to West Africa to assist in the fight against Ebola.

Jusu is a United Methodist communicator in the Sierra Leone annual conference.

News media contact: Kathy L. Gilbert, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or [email protected].

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